Peace Out! Week Eighty-three

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Peace Out! Week Eighty-three

Commentary on federal executions being carried out in Indiana.
Offered by NEC member Kathy McGregor
and Don Davis, a condemned man at
Varner Prison in Arkansas.

Don Davis has spent almost 30 years on Arkansas’ death row. He wrote a letter to me last week that I can only assume was written as renewed feelings about his own fate came up during the federal executions being carried out in Indiana. Perhaps, also, as demonstrations fanned out across the country when the video of George Floyd’s execution was televised all over the world. In that letter he wrote: I need a favor and I know that you are the one who needs to do it. I know how you feel about executions but if the state is going to have them should it not be televised? If the state is going to do it in the name of the people should not the people get to see what they are paying for? How can they say it is a deterrence if no one can see it? What about the cost? This issue needs to be talked about anyway one can talk about it.

Don is one of five men whose appeals have run out and are “eligible for execution” once the state obtains the drugs necessary to put a man to death.

Don was to be the first of eight men executed on April 17, 2017. He was taken to the “quiet room” just steps away from the death chamber and had his last meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes before he was granted a last-minute stay of execution. This was the second time since 2006 he received a stay this close to being executed.

Don wrote the following piece for me to read at a town hall meeting organized by the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in Little Rock prior to the mass executions that were to be carried out just after Easter 2017. Don has written extensively over the past few years about how solitary confinement has caused him to face his crimes so that he may become the man he is today – remorseful, forgiven by God, and redeemed:

Hello. My name is Don Davis and I am a death row prisoner who has been sentenced to Death by lethal injection for a murder that happened in 1990.

First, I think it is important for you to know that I know who and what I was 25 years ago. I do not believe that I am the same person that I was. I do not believe that the state ever executes the same man that they convicted. It is hard for me to believe that after all these years of being in this cage that I have not grown in some kind of way. Maybe not in the same way as a person who is out in the world would, but I have done the best I could under the sentence of death.

I know better than most how society looks at us. Most think we are nothing but monsters who have nothing to contribute. Society has been trying to kill me for 25 years. The leaders in our society have been thinking of ways to kill men who are sitting down here in a cage cut off from the world - a place of darkness and depression; a sewage of dejection where words like love, compassion, and empathy are swallowed up with words like hate, trash, plague, animal. A place somewhere between life and death.

How do you do 25 years in a single man cell in solitary confinement without going completely crazy? I will say that I have held up better than most. One way I think I have made it through is a good imagination. I have been places. I have done and seen things that people who are free have never done. I have built a world on a far-away planet seven times bigger than Earth. I have been the quarterback in the Super Bowl (Cowboys) and yes…we won. I have been what I consider to be a real man. One who puts his family first – that works all his life so that his family will have a place to call home; food on the table; clothes to wear…making sure his family is safe from people like I was 25 years ago.

Imagination is a powerful instrument that one can use to escape solitary confinement. If you want to kill a person on death row without using drugs, find a way to stop imagination. Game over.

I believe in the Bible. I believe that God is the true God. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the living God. I believe that God sacrificed his son, Jesus Christ, for the sins of all men. This means everyone. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “everyone but Don Davis.” What I read was “to whomever asks for forgiveness with a sincere heart, if you are truly repentant of your sins, then forgiveness shall be given.”
This is what I believe. Not only do I believe this, it is what I do every day of my life.
As I Am – Don Davis, Death Row, April 2017

Prayer to End the Use of the Death Penalty

God of compassion,
You let your rain fall on the just and the unjust.
Expand and deepen our hearts
So that we may love you as you love,
Even those among us
Who have caused the greatest pain by taking life.
For there is in our land a great cry for vengeance
As we fill up death rows and kill the killers
In the name of justice, in the name of peace.
Jesus, our brother,
You suffered execution at the hands of your state
But you did not let hatred overcome you.
Help us reach out to victims of violence
So that our enduring love may help them heal.
Holy Spirit of God,
You strengthen us in the struggle for justice,
Help us to work tirelessly
For the abolition of state-sanctioned death
And to renew our society in its very heart
So that violence will be no more.
Amen.

Sister Helen Prejean CSJ

Watch this space! Coming soon, your opportunity to view a filmed version of the stage production of "On The Row." EPF National Executive Council member Kathy McGregor will make this impactful film available to our Peace Partner Parishes and Chapters via Zoom on Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 4:30 pm Eastern/1:30 pm Pacific. Tickets available on Eventbrite soon for a $30 contribution to EPF.
About The Prison Story Project: The Prison Story Project offered incarcerated women and men an opportunity to explore their truths through poetry, creative writing, literature, song-writing, and visual art. Their work was then curated into a staged reading performed by actors and presented first to those on inside prison, and then outside to the community.

Eleven of the thirty-four men on Arkansas' death row participated in the Project, including Don Davis, featured above. Six actors and a musician were brought back to Varner Prison’s death row to present the staged reading of “On The Row” to the men. Three months later, the state of Arkansas announced it would execute 8 men over 10 days just after Easter 2017. Four of the men set to be executed were participants in the Project. Two were executed and two received last minute stays.

“On The Row” has been touring the country since 2017. Last year the Whiting Foundation for the Humanities awarded The Prison Story Project a substantial grant which has allowed us to create a filmed version of the staged reading as well as creation of a comprehensive teaching guide to share with other arts organizations interested in replicating our work. EPF looks forward to making this powerful film and the teaching guide available to you in the near future.

Op ed from The Tennessean concerning the legal appeals of our brother, Abu Ali Abdur'Rahman.

Read it here.

Our colleagues at Anglican Peace Fellowship share this link to their compelling service on the 75th commemoration of the U.S. bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Thanks to all from EPF who were able to attend.
Trinity Cathedral-Cleveland held a healing Eucharist last Thursday to lend support to combat human trafficking in our country. That day was United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. You can watch the recording hereb, which features people from throughout the diocese, for the Healing Eucharist service. The service was followed by a discussion about the effects of COVID-19 on human trafficking in Northeast Ohio.
Special Healing Service for Victims of Human Trafficking
Save the Date: September 13
4PM ET/1PM PT
VFHL Online Film Salon
“Roadmap to Apartheid”
Hosted by Voices From the Holy Land and EPF-Palestine Israel Network

The film “Roadmap to Apartheid” graphically asserts that the Israeli system of total military, economic and social control over the lives of Palestinians constitutes Apartheid. Historical footage and the compelling testimony of South Africans take us back to see and understand the system of White Supremacy that gave its name to a UN-banned crime against humanity.
Side-by-side with what happened in South Africa, the highly acclaimed film takes us to Palestine-Israel, where we see the same kind of rules and the same brutality inflicted on Palestinians. South Africans make the connection and say: “This is another Apartheid.” Palestinians and Israelis detail how Israeli Apartheid operates and how it is being resisted.

Is it really Apartheid? Many in Israel and the U.S. deny it. …
On September 13, please join us in a 90-minute interactive discussion of the film, which will be made freely available to view in advance at your convenience. Guest experts will update us on subsequent developments that are making the Israeli-Apartheid reality ever more evident and ever harsher.
In a time of crisis, when Americans and the whole world are waking up to the profound harm of racism – and insisting that things must change – the issue of Israeli-Apartheid demands our urgent attention and response. Please mark your calendars for Sept. 13 and be on the lookout in the coming weeks for registration details and instructions for accessing the film.

VOLUNTEER NEEDED

The Episcopal Peace Fellowship is recruiting an experienced volunteer who is deeply committed to the mission of EPF. This person will play a significant role in leading the organization’s sustainability initiatives. The individual will collaborate with the EPF Sustainability Committee in the creation and implementation of institutional advancement strategies; including major gift procurement, fundraising, and grant submissions. Episcopalians and candidates with identifiable connections within The Episcopal Church will be given preferential consideration. Specific volunteer responsibilities will include working with the Executive Director and the EPF National Executive Council, as well as supporting leadership of national EPF Action Groups, and the EPF Palestine Israel Network (EPF-PIN). Effective oral and written communication and presentation skills, grant writing and fulfillment, creative “out-of-the-box” thinking, planned giving and execution of annual campaigns are essential requirements for becoming an effective addition to our team. Please send letter of interest with reference to specific experience and accomplishments in development to EPF Executive Director Melanie Merkle Atha at epfactnow.

The annual Jonathan Myrick Daniels and the Martyrs of Alabama Pilgrimage will take place virtually this Saturday, August 15, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. Central time. This year's preacher will be Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and author of The Black Christ. Details here.

JOHN NEVIN SAYRE AWARD
NOMINEES SOUGHT

Episcopal Peace Fellowship seeks nominations for its John Nevin Sayre Award. EPF established the Sayre award in 1979 to honor founding EPF member Rev. John Nevin Sayre for his lifetime of service waging the Gospel of Peace. Sayre was an Episcopal priest, pacifist, missionary, teacher and author who gained notoriety when he challenged President Woodrow Wilson to address the devastating events of World War I. Because of Sayre’s efforts, Wilson agreed recognizing conscientious objection as a legal alternative to military service. Sayre has been described as a peace apostle whose life was devoted to the waging of peace and opposition to war.

In 1979, two years after Sayre’s death, Episcopal Peace Fellowship honored his lifelong commitment to peace by establishing the John Nevin Sayre Award. The award is conferred every three years at General Convention for courageous witness in the cause of justice and peace to a recipient selected by the EPF National Executive Council. Through this award Episcopal Peace Fellowship publicly recognizes Episcopalians who are actively living their baptismal promises of striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. Like the person for whom the award is named, recipients have dedicated their life’s work to courageously promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence in the face of cultural opposition. Past recipients include Rev. Naim Ateek, Madeline Trichel, Mary Miller, Louis Crew, Newland Smith, Very Rev. Canon Patrick Augustine, Caroline Stevenson, and Patty and the late Rt. Rev. Ed Browning.

The 2021 John Nevin Sayre Award will be presented at the EPF General Convention reception on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. The Rev. Bob Davidson, chair of EPF’s National Executive Council, looks forward to EPF’s reception each Convention. “It isn’t often that we are witnesses to peacemakers of such magnitude living in our midst. These awards remind us that working among us are living, breathing models of God’s call to follow the Prince of Peace,” said Rev. Davidson.

Nominations should be emailed to EPF Executive Director Melanie Merkle Atha at epfactnow by November 1, 2020, including in the letter of nomination the ways in which the nominee has worked for peace and justice.

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